On trail there is usually only a requirement for two tools, if that. A blade and a pair of scissors will handle 99% of tasks. It is the one percent remaining where additional tools can sometimes make life a lot easier, and that remaining per cent is personal to the individual. It could be a pair of pliers, tweezers, nailfile, saw, tin/can/bottle opener, a particualr screwdriver or many others. Such additional tools could be a luxury, or an essential. There isn’t much else that will tighten a loose screw on glasses, there isn’t much else that will adjust a central locking screw on a twist-lock trekking pole, there isn’t much else that will change the jet out on a Primus stove, there isn’t much else that will fix a broken zip, and so on.
Every now and then an individual may prefer to pack along a specific tool for a specific task. I am not referring to what-ifs, but likelys. A small multi-tool such as the Leatherman Squirt S4 that Three Points of the Compass frequently carries on longer backpacking trips, includes small drivers alongside other useful ‘stuff’. This tool will only ever handle light tasks. However beefier tools, such as the still quite small Leatherman Juice S2, would be capable of more demanding work. Larger tools such as the 84mm and larger Victorinox knives and heavy weight Leatherman multi-tools will handle even more demanding work. But including such a beefy tool in a backpacking or camping gear selection incurs a severe weight penalty. Alternatively there are also some accessory tools that add a little more function to existing toolsets.
There are obviously many suppliers of small tools, however Leatherman in particular have done an excellent job in producing a range of small and well made accessory tools. These include their proprietary ‘flat’ double ended bits. I show a stubby Gerber double-ended bit here for comparison. Even with such a tiny double-ended Gerber bit, there is a miniscule difference in weight, the flat Leatherman bit shown is 3.5g while the Gerber bit is 4.5g.
Because there is such a wide range of bits produced by Leatherman there is no need to take them all along, instead simply include specific bits that fit specific pieces of kit. I have never required any of the square ended Robertson drivers included in my 42 piece bit set as these are more commonly used in Canada rather than the UK. It is also very unlikly that many will feel the need to pack along the unique Tungsten Carbide glass breaker bit produced by Leatherman. Unfortunately, bits can not be purchased individually and a bit of an investment is required when buying far more than are actually required. There is a small Basic Bit Kit available with just six double ended bits included. Other smaller Bit sets are also occasionally available.
Three Points of the Compass purchased a two piece Bit Set quite some years ago and they have seen considerable use since then. Leatherman have swapped out some of the bits for other combinations in the years since mine were released onto the market. There is some inconsistency between the bits included in some markets/countries and those listed online and accompanying documentation so be sure to ensure that any desired bit is actually included. There are ten slots in each plastic card, holding ten bits in each. I have never determined why the peculiarly shaped holders are shaped in such a manner as they look as though they should have some additional function. Being double-ended bits, this equals 20 bits per card and 40 bits across two cards. Plus there is a small hole in each card and a small double ended eyeglass screwdriver is slotted into this. This can only be slotted into a Leatherman tool that has the appropriate holder. If it is only a small eyeglass screwdriver that is required, then one of the little Victorinox mini-screwdrivers can be slipped into a ditty bag instead.
The 42 bits in my set comprise: Small (eyeglasses) flat/Philips screwdriver, Philips #1/#2, Phillips #0/#3, flat 1/8 with 3/32, flat 3/16 with 5/32, flat 1/4 and 7/32, square R#2/R#3, T10/T15, T20/T25, T27/T30, Allen 1/16 and .050, Allen 1.5mm/2mm, Allen 2.5mm/3mm, Allen 4mm/5mm, Allen 1/4″/6mm, Allen 1/8 with 7/64, Allen 5/32 and 9/64, Allen 7/32 and 3/16, Pozi 3/Square R#1, Pozi 1/Pozi 2, Flat 3/16 with Phillips #1-2
While not in any way intended to be used in such a manner, it is possible to slot a Leatherman bit into the bottle opener/carabiner end on a Leatherman keychain Style. This hack will not handle large amount of torque but will tackle light tasks and can be a very lightweight option. Bits will fit both Style CS and PS in this manner. The Style looks like a smaller version of the Skeletool but is actually very different. However Bits and the Skeletool together do make a ‘fairly’ lightweight combination package.
Leatherman Bit Driver
The Leatherman Bit Driver will work with any Leatherman that does not already have a Bit Driver but has a Phillips. The square ended accesory slots over a Phillips driver and then provides a 1/4″ hex drive socket.
Any of the proprietary Leatherman ‘flat’ Bits can be used with the holder that comes with the Bit Driver. There is also space for an additional two to be slotted in each side of the diver itself. This would then provide fourteen different bit heads. There is no need to stick to Leatherman bits, and 1/4″ hex driver or tool can be slotted in.
The Leatherman Bit Driver is a short adapter fitted in to a plastic case along with five double ended bits. These currently (2021) are:
- Torx #10 & #15
- Allen 4mm & 5mm
- Allen 6mm & 1/4″
- Phillips #0 & #3
- Screwdrivers Medium and Extra Small
Leatherman Bit Driver Extender
The Leatherman Bit Driver Extender provides a 65mm extension to a bit, either one of the Leatherman flat bits or any standard 1/4″ hexagonal bit. It will fit any Leatherman multi-tool with a large bit driver, or will also extend the Bit Driver already mentioned. This makes it a little less suited for use on trail. Alternatively, with the grippy knurled finish on the shaft of the extender, it can simply be used as a screwdriver handle in its own right.
There is no need to simply stick to the Leatherman Bit Extender. If a Leatherman multi-tool fitted with a flat, large bit driver is not carried, it isn’t of much use. It may be that a standard 1/4″ drive extension, of a desired or suitable length, is a preferable option. A single perfectly matched and correctly sized socket head of good quality could also be included if required.
Away from the trail, Three Points of the Compass has included some Leatherman accessories in my EDC kit which is usually slung into the car, or my backpack when commuting to London. From this kit, the item most often bought into use is my Leatherman Charge. This has been pulled into use on hundreds of occasions over the years. Strictly not for backpacking, the packability and adaptability of these items has always proved of use.
Mine is one of the older Leatherman Charge models and most frequently tackled tasks will utilise the bit holder in the Charge, possibly with a Leatherman Bit Driver Extender, extended still further if necessary with another 1/4″ hex extender. Or the 1/4″ extender can be used just with the Victorinox Bit wrench shown later. I can also use one of three drill bits in any combination here. While it takes a little time, I have drilled through 2 inches of wood with a 6mm drill bit slotted into the Leatherman Charge.
Leatherman produce a number of fabric and leather pouches for their tools, including a slim pouch for the Bit set. All are pretty expensive and far too heavy for taking backpacking. Their advantage is in creating useful and compact kits for everyday carry, though strictly not for use on trail.
I haven’t shown all of the accessories produced by Leatherman here. Others include a removable pocket clip, quick release lanyard ring, ratchet driver and saw/file. Some accessories will only fit one or a small number of specific multi-tools. Few if any of these other accessories would be of much interest to the backpacker or traveller so I shall not cover them here. The Leatherman in-line ratchet driver for example, Leatherman’s most recently released tool, simply makes a job easier and quicker, it is not essential. A better alternative is shown below.
Leatherman provide a compatability chart for their accessories however with a bit of combination and ingenuity it is often possible to extend usage beyond this.
To repeat myself- there should be little need to carry any of these accessories. It is more being aware of what there is available that may extend capability of a tool to enable specific, possible seasonal, pieces of kit to be maintained, repaired or adjusted.
Other makers’ accessories
Alternatives to the Leatherman accessory tools are obviously available from other manufacturers however quality can be suspect for many of these. Two ‘quite’ light and well made items are shown here along with a weighty adapter.
If looking for a small ratchet driver, there is no better tool than the Topeak Ratchet Rocket. This is mostly aimed at cyclists and comes supplied in a small number of Topeak bike kits. Sadly and pretty much typically, it cannot be purchased alone. The chrome vanadium steel tool has a fine tooth ratchet mechanism with reverse lever and thumb wheel for quick rotation. There is also a magnetic bit holder in the end. It is 93mm long and weighs 28g.
It may be that a hunt through the tool box reveals just the tool required, however most tools intended for home and garage use are overly heavy. Have a glance at those used by cyclists and motorcyclists. Those tourers have a similar requirement, mechanical parts that might require specialised specific tool yet still as lightweight and as compact as possible. The Topeak ratchet is a perfect example.
The Victorinox Bit Kit (model number 3.0303) is purchased as a 38g wrench along with 1/4″ hex bits #3 and #4, Phillips bits #0 and #3, and torx bits #10 and #15. They come with a plastic holder that has space for four more bits, which when purchased simply looks as though something has been lost. However the holder need not be included in a lighter tool set-up as holder and six bits alone weigh 37g. Mine is an earlier model and knurling has replaced the grooves on each end which now makes for an improved grip. This wrench does not have magnetic bit retainers, instead relying on spring clips situated just inside the drive heads.
A Gator adapter will fit many shapes of head put in front of it, mine fits 7mm – 19mm sockets and various nuts, screws, hooks, bolt heads. Broken taps and knobs can frequently be successfully tackled with a gator where other tools fail. Rounded and cammed out heads can often still be loosened with a gator. However they are a weighty and not particularly small addition.
If part of a large group on a multi-day hike, it may be practical to come to a collective decision to not carry individual small multi-tools or SAKs, instead carrying just one large, beefier Leatherman or similar multi-tool between the group, together with any more specialised bits or tools for particular pieces of kit. These could include heavier duty pliers, a saw, specialised tools, a sewing awl, even a tin opener. Some more specialised pieces of kit may not be addressed by anything suggested above. A purpose built pricker for the jet on a multi-fuel stove need not weigh a great deal but can mean a hot drink and meal in the depths of winter rather than not. Though ingenuity in addressing some emergency needs goes a long way, a single bristle from a toothbrush weighs nothing but will clear a blocked jet. Give some thought as to what tool can be done without, what is a ‘possible’, and what is an essential.
Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.